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The X-Factors: Washington

David Yapkowitz examines the Washington Wizards’ best path toward a postseason play-in opportunity.

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The NBA will be back, although in what form remains to be seen. Players have until June 24 to inform their teams whether or not they will make the trek to Orlando or not. Until next week, we won’t have any idea as to what teams will look like as they gear up for a playoff run.

Assuming though that most teams remain relatively intact, we’re continuing our X-Factor series here at Basketball Insiders. We’re taking a look at what each potential playoff team needs to do in order to make the playoffs and possible advance further.

After losing John Wall for the entire year before the season had even begun, the Washington Wizards certainly appeared to be a team that would finish on the outside looking in. Before the season was halted, they were 24-40. However, that actually was good enough to be in ninth place in the Eastern Conference and a mere 5.5 games back from the Orlando Magic for the eighth and final playoff spot.

The Wizards will be among the teams invited to Walt Disney World later this month with a viable path for them to possibly make the postseason. One of the biggest issues they’ll face is the fact that they are such a young team with relatively little experience. Out of the 17 players on the team, including their two-way contract players, nine of them are 25 or younger. Ian Mahinmi (33) and Ish Smith (31) are the lone players over the age of 30.

This team has relied heavily on their youth all season long. Players such as Troy Brown Jr, Thomas Bryant, Rui Hachimura, Jerome Robinson and Mortiz Wagner were all key rotation players. Each of them has produced though for the most part when called upon. They’re young, they’re going to make mistakes. But they will learn from it and it could prove invaluable as they begin their Orlando journey.

Another major factor for the Wizards’ playoff hopes will be their three-point shooting. That’s been one of their biggest strengths the entire year. The Wizards had been one of the best three-point shooting teams in the NBA this season and their 37.2 percent mark was good enough for third overall in the league.

Five players on the team are shooting at a 40 percent clip or better from long range with Davis Bertans leading the way at 42.4 percent. Bertans was always a good long-range sniper, but he exploded this season. His game is well suited to the new age game of stretch bigs and three-point shooting. Among the other players in the rotation shooting a strong percentage from three, Bryant is at 40.7 percent and Isaac Bonga at 40 percent. Shabazz Napier is 38.1 percent, Smith is at 36.7 percent, Brown at 34.5 percent and Wagner at 34.3 percent.

This team has plenty of capable shooters from beyond the arc and sometimes a hot shooting game or two or three might be all they need. A team that shoots as well as the Wizards do from three is certainly capable of getting hot for a few games and surprising someone.

This all brings us to the one major X-Factor in the Wizards hopes for the playoffs. As quickly as their youth matures and as good as their three-point shooting is, Washington’s hopes and dreams for this season fall on the shoulders of Bradley Beal.

When it was announced that Wall would miss the entire season, it put a ton more pressure on Beal. And he responded. Beal’s play this season has been nothing short of spectacular. He was one of the biggest snubs for the All-Star Game and if he somehow manages to drag the Wizards into the postseason, why shouldn’t he get consideration for the MVP award?

His 30.5 points per game and 6.1 assists are both career-highs. He’s shooting 45.5 percent from the field and 35.3 percent from the three-point line. He’s getting to the free-throw line about eight times a game and converting at 84.2 percent mark.

Beal is a threat to score from anywhere on the court. But one of the biggest changes to Beal’s game this season has been his playmaking role in Wall’s absence. When healthy, Wall is one of the best point guards in the league; shoes that are not that easy to fill. Beal has been doing a tremendous job. He’s been the de-facto point guard with the ball in his hands most of the time and finding that balance between getting his own shot and knowing when to create for his teammates or keep them involved in the offense.

If the Wizards manage to sneak into the postseason, something that didn’t seem very probable before the season was put on temporary hiatus, you can bet that Beal will be the driving force behind that.

As it stands, the NBA’s plan is for an eight-game schedule to finish off the regular season and determine the playoff seeding. If the team that finishes ninth is within four games of the eighth-place team, they will have a play-in game to determine the final playoff spot. That’s all the Wizards need to do to trigger a play-in game: Finish within four games of eighth place.

It’s a daunting task to be sure, but with Beal playing like a super-human, it’s certainly not improbable.

David Yapkowitz has been a staff writer for Basketball Insiders since 2017. Based in Los Angeles, he focuses on the Pacific Division as well as the NBA at large.

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